Mike Isaac

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About.me Continues Its Product Push With “Replies”

aboutdotmerepliesAbout.me has had quite a ride over the past few years. It has been bought by a big media company. And it has been bought back again by its original owners.

The startup — which aims to be a home for your online personal identity — has been heads-down working on product features since it ended up back in its co-founders’ hands earlier this year. Essentially, it’s building out what was once a simple landing page for all of your online communication accounts into its own network.

It began small earlier this year with “compliments,” a feature that allows users to interact with each other by sending little notes on each others’ About.me pages. In October came “collections,” a sort of list-like product that helps users organize their acquaintances.

And on Tuesday, the company launched “replies,” another small iteration that basically extends About.me interactions into the possibility of connecting in other ways. If you’ve been complimented via the service, you can offer to talk to someone via email, Skype, telephone or whatever.

Which is interesting in and of itself, considering the communication avenues espoused by other networks — like, say, Facebook. The social giant wants users to live inside of Facebook, posting in each others’ News Feeds and using the Messaging product to send texts, emails, even phone calls.

About.me co-founder Tony Conrad isn’t about that, he said. “The existing services today want you in sort of a controlled loop of communication,” Conrad said in an interview. “We made a conscious decision not to do that. It’s a little antithetical to the way things work, but if I can create a meaningful connection to you, you’ll be inspired to return to our product.”

A curious move, and one acting on the assumption that About.me adds enough value — on top of being a starting point to find your various online avenues — for its users to return to the service regularly.

The company will end the year with about five million registered users, though it hasn’t discussed specifics about how active its user base is (outside of saying that it had nearly 150 million profile views last month — which still gives little perspective on the company’s scale).

But I do see value in the avoidance of lock-in; I don’t want my entire life — and all the ways I communicate with others — trapped inside of any one network. And I imagine that there are many other people who feel the same way. Perhaps About.me can capitalize on that.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work